Tuesday, 15 September 2020
Next step to fascism: when governments deliberately plot to break international law
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill 14 September 2020 Second Reading https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-09-14/debates/83A18A5B-75DE-4843-9C64-FAD20602C884/UnitedKingdomInternalMarketBill Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) I want to address three questions at the heart of the matter. Is it right to threaten to break the law in the way the Government propose? Is it necessary to do so? Will it help our country? The answer to each question is no. Let us remember the context and the principle. If there is one thing that we are known for around the world, it is the rule of law. This is the country of Magna Carta; the country that is known for being the mother of all Parliaments; and the country that, out of the darkness of the second world war, helped found the United Nations. Our global reputation for rule making, not rule breaking, is one of the reasons that we are so respected around the world. When people think of Britain, they think of the rule of law. Despite what the Prime Minister said in his speech, let us be clear that this is not an argument about remain versus leave. It is an argument about right versus wrong. The Brexiteer and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lamont, says that the Bill is impossible to defend. The Brexiteer and former Attorney General who helped to negotiate and sign off this deal as Attorney General says that the Bill is “unconscionable”. And the Brexiteer Lord Howard—the Prime Minister’s former boss—said this: “I never thought it was a thing I’d hear a British minister, far less a Conservative minister, say, which is that the government was going to invite parliament to act in breach of international law…We have a reputation for probity, for upholding the rule of law, and it’s a reputation that is very precious and ought to be safeguarded, and I am afraid it was severely damaged…by the bill”. Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con) Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the EU has been negotiating in good faith? Edward Miliband It is very interesting that the hon. Gentleman should say that because a report came out today from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is chaired by a Conservative Member. This is what the report says and this is my answer to him: “These talks began in March and continued throughout the summer in a spirit of good faith and mutual respect for the delicate arrangements in Northern Ireland.” That is what the Conservative-controlled Select Committee says about this issue. The Prime Minister has said many times that he wants to bring unity to the country during his premiership. I therefore congratulate him on having, in just one short year, united his five predecessors. Unfortunately, their point of agreement is that he is trashing the reputation of this country and trashing the reputation of his office. Why are these five former Prime Ministers so united on this point? It is because they know that our moral authority in the world comes from our commitment to the rule of law and keeping our word. We rightly condemn China when it rides roughshod over the treaties dictating the future of Hong Kong. We say it signed them in good faith, that it is going back on its word and that it cannot be trusted. And his defence? “Don’t worry; I can’t be trusted either.” What will China say to us from now on? What will it throw back at us—that we, too, do not keep to international law? We respect the fact that the Conservative party, under this Prime Minister, won the election. He got his mandate to deliver his Brexit deal: the thing that he said was—I am sure she recalls this because it was probably on her leaflets—“oven ready”. It is not me who is coming along and saying it is half-baked; it is him. He is saying, “The deal that I signed and agreed is actually—what’s the word? Ambiguous. Problematic.” I will get to this later in my speech, but I wonder whether he actually read the deal in the first place. Share The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned: This content has already been edited and is awaiting review. Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab) Share My right hon. Friend is making an extremely good speech. Would he perhaps tell the House who on earth might have signed this terrible deal with so many ambiguities less than nine months ago? Share The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned: This content has already been edited and is awaiting review. Edward Miliband Share My hon. Friend makes an important point; I do believe it was the Prime Minister who signed the deal. In fairness to the Prime Minister, I want to deal with each of the arguments that the Government have made in the last few days for this action. It is quite hard to keep count of the different arguments—you know you are losing the argument when you keep making lots of different arguments—but I want to give the House the top five. First, let us deal with the argument about blockades, which made its first outing in The Telegraph on Saturday through the Prime Minister, and obviously it made a big appearance today. I have to say, I did not like the ramping up of the rhetoric from the European Union on Thursday, following the Prime Minister’s publication of this Bill, but even by the standards of the Prime Minister, this is as ridiculous an argument as I have ever heard. Let me let me explain to him why—the point was very well made by the former Attorney General this morning. This is what article 16 of the protocol says: “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.” In other words, let us just say that this threat somehow materialised—and by the way, I believe that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials would have to implement it, making it even more absurd that it would happen. If the threat materialised, it is not overturning the protocol that is the right thing to do; it is upholding the protocol, as article 16 says. But do not take my word for it, Madam Deputy Speaker; take the word of the former Attorney General—who definitely read the protocol—who wrote this morning: “There are clear and lawful responses available to Her Majesty’s government”. As if that was not enough, there is also an irony here—the Prime Minister tried to slip this in; I do not know whether the House noticed—which is that this Bill does precisely nothing to address the issue of the transport of food from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It is about two issues where the Government are going to override international law: exit declarations, Northern Ireland to GB, and the definition of state aid relating to Northern Ireland. If the Prime Minister wants to tell us that there is another part of the Bill that I have not noticed that will deal with this supposed threat of blockade, I will very happily give way to him. I am sure he has read it; I am sure he knows it in detail, because he is a details man. Come on, tell us: what clause protects against the threat, which he says he is worried about, to GB-to-Northern Ireland exports? There you have it: he didn’t read the protocol, he hasn’t read the Bill, he doesn’t know his stuff. Let us deal with the second bogus argument. The Prime Minister claimed on Wednesday that it was necessary to protect the Good Friday agreement. The first outing for that argument was on Wednesday, at Prime Minister’s questions. I have to say to him, I would rather trust the authors of the Good Friday agreement than the Prime Minister, who has prominent members of the Government who opposed the agreement at the time. However, this is what John Major and Tony Blair wrote—[Interruption.] They don’t like John Major. They said that the Bill “puts the Good Friday agreement at risk”— [Interruption]—this is very serious— “because it negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process.” These are very important words from two former Prime Ministers, both of whom helped to win us peace in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister may not want to believe them, but he will, I hope, believe himself—[Laughter]—maybe not—because this is what he said about the Northern Ireland protocol: “there are particular circumstances in Northern Ireland at the border that deserve particular respect and sensitivity, and that is what they have received in the deal.” It is “a great deal for Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 578-579.] I do not understand this. He signed the deal. It is his deal. It is the deal that he said would protect the people of Northern Ireland. I have to say to him, this is not just legislative hooliganism on any issue; it is on one of the most sensitive issues of all. I think we should take the word of two former Prime Ministers of this country who helped to secure peace in Northern Ireland. I believe it was necessary to make special arrangements for Northern Ireland, or for the UK to be in the EU customs union to avoid a hard border in Ireland. That is why the Prime Minister came along and said the protocol was the right thing to do. Let me deal with the third excuse we heard. This is the “It was all a bit of a rush” excuse. As the Prime Minister said in his article, times were “torrid” and there were “serious misunderstandings”. He tries to pretend that this is some new issue, but they have been warned for months about the way the protocol would work. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is sitting in his place, was warned at the Select Committee in March and was asked about these issues. The Business Secretary was written to by the House of Lords Committee in April. Let us just get this straight for a minute, because I think it is important to take a step back. The Prime Minister is coming to the House to tell us today that his flagship achievement—the deal he told us was a triumph, the deal he said was oven-ready, the deal on which he fought and won the general election—is now contradictory and ambiguous. What incompetence. What failure of governance. How dare he try to blame everyone else? I say to the Prime Minister that this time he cannot blame the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), he cannot blame John Major, he cannot blame the judges, he cannot blame the civil servants, he cannot sack the Cabinet Secretary again. There is only one person responsible for it and that is him. This is his deal. It is his mess. It is his failure. For the first time in his life, it is time to take responsibility. It is time to ’fess up: either he was not straight with the country about the deal in the first place, or he did not understand it. A competent Government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions they could not live with. If such a Government somehow missed the point but woke up later, they would do what any competent business would do after it realised it could not live with the terms of a contract: they would negotiate a way out in good faith. That is why this is all so unnecessary. There is a mechanism designed for exactly this purpose in the agreement: the Joint Committee on the Northern Ireland protocol. What did the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster say on 11 March at the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union? He will recall that he was asked about state aid. He said: “the effective working of the protocol is a matter for the Joint Committee to resolve.” The remaining issues to which the Bill speaks are not insignificant, but nor are they insurmountable, and that is the right way to pursue them, not an attempt at illegality. Let me come back to the excuses. Fourthly, on Sunday, there was the Justice Secretary’s “the fire alarm” defence: “We don’t want to have to do this, but we might have to.” I want to be clear with the House about something very, very important about a decision to pass the Bill. I have great respect for the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), but I want to make this point. The very act of passing the Bill is itself a breach of international law. It would be wrong for hon. and right hon. Members on either side of the House to be under any illusions about that as they decide which Lobby to go into tonight. If we pass the Bill, even if there is a nod and a wink from the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, we equip the Government with the power to break the law. That in itself is a breach of the Northern Ireland protocol and therefore a breach of international law. Sir Robert Neill I have listened carefully to the right hon. Member’s formulation and I understand much of what he says. However, an Act passed by this House only becomes law when it comes into force. He will be right, I submit, to say that as soon as any of these provisions came into force we would potentially breach international law. That is not quite the same thing, as I think he would fairly concede. Edward Miliband That is not a risk we are going to take. So the fire alarm defence simply does not work. The last defence was floated as a trial balloon, one might say, by the Northern Ireland Secretary last Tuesday, I believe. He said it was a breach of the law in a “specific and limited way.” That really is a new way of thinking about legal questions. It now turns out that breaking the law specifically and in a limited way is a reasonable defence for this Government. We have all heard of self-defence, the alibi defence, the innocence defence; now we have the Johnson defence: you can break the law, but in a specific and limited way. Think about the grave context we face. The Home Secretary is in today’s newspapers warning everyone, “You must abide by the law.” On this, she is absolutely right. She says, “I know that, as part of our national effort, the law-abiding majority will stick to these new rules. But there will be a small minority who do not”. You couldn’t make it up. What she does not say in the article, but what we now know about this Government, is that the Johnson defence means something very specific: there is one rule for the British public and another rule for this Government. Pioneered by Cummings, implemented by Johnson—that is the Johnson rule. This is the wrong thing to do. It is not necessary and it is deeply damaging to this country. Let us think about the impact on our country in the negotiations. The Government’s hope is that it will make a deal more likely, but that relies on the notion that reneging on a deal we made less than a year ago with the party we are negotiating with now will make that party more likely to trust us, not less. Think about our everyday lives: suppose we made an agreement with someone a year ago and we were seeking to have another negotiation with them; if we had unilaterally reneged on the first deal we made, would it make them more likely to trust us, or less likely? Obviously, it would make them less likely to trust us. We know the risks. I very much hope the Prime Minister gets a deal. As a country, we absolutely need a deal. We know the risks of no deal if this strategy goes wrong. The Prime Minister said last week that no deal is somehow “a good outcome”. He is wrong. I hear all the time from businesses—I am sure the Business Secretary, who is in his place, does too—that are deeply worried about the danger of no deal. I know what the Prime Minister thinks about the views of business, thanks to his four-letter rant, but this is what businesses have to say. Nissan says there could be no guarantee about its Sunderland plant if there were tariffs on UK to EU trade. Ford says that no deal would be disastrous. The NFU says it would be catastrophic for British farming—indeed, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the same thing. We are in the biggest economic crisis for 300 years, the biggest public health crisis for 100 years. No deal is not some game; it is about the livelihoods of millions of people across our country. What about the prized trade deal with the United States? I know the Prime Minister thinks he has a friend in President Trump, but even he must recognise the necessity of being able to deal with both sides. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said: “The UK must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU… If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.” This is the signal that we—the country known for the rule of law, the country that abides by the law, the country that founded international law—are sending to our friends and allies around the world. That is why we cannot support the Bill. The Government must go back, remove the provisions breaking international law and ensure that the Bill works in a way that respects the devolution settlements. That is what a responsible, competent and law-abiding Government would do. This is a pivotal moment to determine the future of our country—who we are and how we operate. In shaping that future, we have to stand up for the traditions that matter: our commitment to the rule of law. The Bill speaks of a Government and a Prime Minister who are casual, not to say cavalier and reckless, about the gravity of the issues confronting them. The Prime Minister should be focusing on securing a Brexit deal, not breaking international law and risking no deal. He is cavalier on international law and cavalier on our traditions. This is not the serious leadership we need, and it is why we will oppose the Bill tonight. 5.56 pm Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) I will endeavour to prove that the best advocacy can be the most concise. There is a great deal in the Bill that I support and that is necessary, sensible and desirable. However, there is one important part of the Bill that creates very real difficulty for me and many others, and I want to go straight to the rub of that point. Part 5 of the Bill, as it stands, gives me real concern as to its leading the United Kingdom into a breach of our international obligations and the law that stems from them. That is, as many others have observed, not something that any country should do, save in the most extreme and pressing circumstances. The difficulty arises in relation particularly to clauses 42, 43 and 45. They are different from the rest of the Bill, because they give very wide-ranging powers indeed to Ministers to disapply elements of the withdrawal agreement and the protocol, which have the force of international law, by regulation. These are measures of a very sweeping kind, involving any kind of legislation and any part of the agreement, not just those related to the protocol, and appearing to oust the jurisdiction of the courts in any respect. I question whether their being so wide can be justified. My other concern is that the way the clauses are phrased at the moment runs the risk of bringing us into breach of our legal obligations before it is necessary. I heard what the Prime Minister said about an insurance policy, and I heard what the Lord Chancellor has said about a “break the glass in emergency” provision. That is fine, but it seems clear from the protocol that there are steps that must be gone through first and exhausted before that can properly be done. The most important part to bear in mind is that if article 45 is brought into force immediately after Royal Assent, we would at that point have disapplied the concept of the direct effect of European law, which is part of the agreement we signed up to and which this House passed less than a year ago. So bringing it into force on Royal Assent is needlessly provocative to our negotiations and needlessly undermines our reputation for sticking to the rule of law. There are also provisions that bind us to act to resolve disputes only through the arbitration process, which is set out in the withdrawal agreement. Article 168, which we have signed up to, states that “the Union and the United Kingdom shall only have recourse to the procedures provided for in this Agreement.” There are detailed procedures and timelines for that. It seems to me that we should be very careful about moving forward with bringing these clauses into force until every opportunity to resolve any dispute has been carried out through the arbitral mechanisms. Only then, and if it is necessary because the EU has not responded to a result of the arbitral mechanism— Jeremy Wright Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing that should give us some optimism about the use of the mechanisms that he is describing is the specific references to the defence of the Good Friday agreement and of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom in the protocol and the withdrawal agreement themselves? . Sir Robert Neill My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. That is, I think, the best approach for us to take. We should stick to the letter of those provisions, as that gives proper defence of our strategic interests. For example, there is the safeguard provision in article 16, which would enable us to act if, in extremis, the stability of the situation in Northern Ireland and the Union was threatened, but we could do that while maintaining the moral high ground and our intellectual reputation. I see that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is listening. I hope that he will be able to go further than the Prime Minister, either tonight or in the course of debates on the Bill, and assure us that those provisions will not be brought into effect unless and until every one of the legal mechanisms open to us has been exhausted and unless and until there has been a specific vote of this House—not by a statutory instrument, which does not give enough scrutiny for such a constitutionally significant issue, but by a specific resolution. That is why my amendment seeks to give the Government an opportunity to have that “break the glass in emergency” provision, but without our triggering a breach of the international legal obligations before it is absolutely necessary. Steve Brine Further to that, does my hon. Friend not agree that, while there will be some who are still on the, shall we say, Blair end of the argument, notwithstanding what he says, that position would be seen by the majority of people as being a reasonable one for us to take in this Act before we enact the nuclear button that is so often talked about? Would that not be reasonable? Sir Robert Neill I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and I do hope that the Government will listen carefully to that. I want to be able to support the Bill. I cannot support it with these clauses in it as they are at the moment. I hope that we will take the opportunity to change and improve these clauses and the way in which they might operate so that we do not fall into a means of damaging our reputation. That is why I cannot support the Bill tonight. I hope that we will see amendments to change what I believe are the egregious, needless and potentially damaging elements of part 5 of the Bill. Unless there are those changes, I will have further difficulty in supporting the Bill. None the less, having listened to what the Prime Minister has said, I want to give the Government that chance in a constructive spirit, and I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is listening carefully to that. I do hope that the Government recognise that to act in a way that unilaterally breaches our international obligations is wholly against the spirit of what this country stands for. It is against the spirit, I think, of the party that he and I have always adhered to as a party of the rule of law, and we need to find a constructive means of making sure that we meet our obligations to the Union, but without undermining our obligations to the rule of law. I do not believe that is impossible with good will. 6.54 pm Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab) I never thought I would ever see a piece of legislation this objectionable put before the House. It is a gigantic act of self-harm masquerading as a negotiating strategy in the EU-UK trade talks, as the flounder and the end of the transition period looms. It unilaterally repudiates the devyolution settlements and centralises power to the UK Government. As currently drafted, this Bill will give Ministers the powers to disapply or unilaterally reinterpret parts of the Northern Ireland protocol and ignore their legal obligations in both domestic and international law to enact the protocol as it was negotiated. It asserts that these powers will be legally effective even though they break international law, thereby unilaterally repudiating the foundations of the withdrawal agreement, which was only enacted by the House earlier this year. The Bill orders the domestic courts to prioritise this new law over any existing international law we have signed up to and it attempts to preclude any prospect of judicial review. It has already been admitted on the Floor of the House by a Cabinet Minister that the Bill breaks international law in a very “specific and limited way”. The reality is that this is a shocking repudiation of everything the UK holds dear. It threatens to destroy our hard-won reputation as an upholder of international law and as a country that can be trusted to keep its word. Once lost, that reputation will not be easy to regain. This is not only morally wrong—it is self-defeating and undermines the prospect of reaching a deal at all. It is a sign of just how dangerous the Government’s actions now are that all five living ex-Prime Ministers, both Labour and Conservative, have made public their opposition to this reckless course of action, as have the Brexiteer ex-leaders of the Conservative party, Lords Hague and Howard. This morning, the Prime Minister’s first Lord Chancellor called the Bill “unconscionable” and revealed that he will not vote for it. Many legal experts argue that both the current Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General are in breach of their oaths of office and should resign. Last week, the head of the Government legal service did resign over the Bill because it breaks international law. Given that we have an unwritten constitution which relies on ministerial restraint and responsibility, the Bill is even more dangerous than it first appears. It unilaterally tears up treaty obligations made just months ago and makes it less likely that any of our future undertakings will be believed or trusted, just as we must renegotiate all our existing trading agreements with the rest of the world. What are we to make of a Prime Minister who presides over this moral vacuum and this reckless gamble with our international reputation; the man who resigned over his predecessor’s deal, which had no Irish border, pronouncing it a betrayal and using it as his path to power in the Conservative party; the man who, nine short months ago, negotiated and signed the withdrawal agreement, declaring it “fantastic”, and expelled from the Conservative party and Parliament all his own MPs who did not back it; the man who went to the country with this “oven-ready” Brexit deal and won a huge majority; the man who now believes it was rushed and flawed, and must be unilaterally written by him and him alone, the world king acting like a two-year-old having a tantrum because he did not get all he wanted; a Prime Minister who is completely careless of the consequences of his own actions; and the leader of a Government who think they can do what they want, purge who they want and act how they want, a Government who think there is one law for them and another for everyone else, repudiating treaties they have just signed and ignoring the lockdown rules they impose on everyone else? This will not end well. The Government must step back from the brink, withdraw the lawbreaking clauses in the Bill, and think again. 7.52 pm Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con) This is of course an essential Bill for the good order of the internal market. It is essential for our economic success, wellbeing, jobs and employment, and I support it. I am very surprised at the EU’s negotiating strategy and purpose, particularly in offering my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), in effect, the Canada deal, and then declining, to date, to offer the same terms to the Prime Minister. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting the Bill’s Second Reading, and I give the Government my strong support for reaching a deal. But I am not going to vote to breach international law, and I want to explain why. As International Development Secretary in the coalition Government, I consistently spoke up for the rule of law. Britain has been a beacon, in some very difficult places in the world, for support for the rule of law. Our support is relied on in that respect, and it matters, whether we are dealing with the rights of gay people in Uganda or ensuring the last vestiges of law in Zimbabwe, never quite snuffed out by dint of Britain’s strong support for the rule of law. Many in this House have rightly spoken up for the rights of Hong Kong citizens when China has sought to resile from international agreements it had signed. We are one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. We have a duty to uphold international law. The rule of law is incredibly important for our basic liberties and human rights, and failing to do so will do incalculable damage to our reputation all around the world. I have two further points to make. The first is that Members of the House should read with the greatest care what John Major and Tony Blair have said about the dangers of all this for the Good Friday agreement and peace across Northern Ireland. I have been here long enough to remember the awful statements about violence in Northern Ireland, with innocent civilians maimed and worse. Secondly, we have one of the largest national debts of any country in the world, and confidence in our debt depends on an absolute understanding that Britain will always stand by its word. In the past, I have voted in this House in ways that I have regretted. I voted for section 28, I voted for the poll tax and I voted with the then Prime Minister on Iraq. But I do not believe I have ever gone into a Lobby to vote in a way that I knew was wrong, and I will not be doing it on this occasion either. 7.22 pm Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con) The majority of the Bill is sensible and necessary for an effective United Kingdom single market when we are no longer subject to EU rules. My issue, as for others, is clauses 42, 43 and 45, which take what was agreed less than a year ago about the primacy of the withdrawal agreement over domestic law and reverse it. They are not a clarification but a contradiction of that agreement, and the Government are very clear about this: doing that would be breaking international law. I agree that it is possible to break international law without automatically breaking domestic law. It is also true that Parliament is sovereign, and it can choose to break international law if it wants to, but the fact that an international law breach is not a domestic law breach and is not unconstitutional does not make it a good idea. The blatant and unilateral breach of a treaty commitment could be justified only in the most extreme and persuasive circumstances. The Government say that such circumstances are those in which no ongoing trade arrangement is made with the EU and where the Joint Committee established under the withdrawal agreement to resolve problems of interpretation is unable to do so, leaving the UK in an impossible position. Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con) That is the nub of the argument, is it not? These are exceptional circumstances. We are about to negotiate by far the most important agreement that this country has reached for the last 40 years. In those highly dynamic circumstances it is right that this Parliament should give the Government sufficient flexibility to get the best possible deal for Britain. That is what this is about, and that is why we should support the Bill. Jeremy Wright If my right hon. Friend will allow me, I will address exactly that point and what the Government could be doing instead of what they are proposing to do. Let me say first that the possibility of reaching no trade agreement and of deadlock in the Joint Committee was foreseeable yet when the withdrawal agreement was signed, and again when it was legislated for, the Government did not say that the risk of the outcomes they rely upon now undermined the deal on offer; they said then and they say now that this was a good deal. So what has changed? That leads to the argument to which my right hon. Friend refers: that, unexpectedly, the European Union is now adopting an interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol so outrageous and so far from a rational reading of that protocol that we could not have seen it coming and we could not possibly accept it, leaving no option but to abrogate ourselves the relevant parts of the protocol. But the withdrawal agreement sets out a mechanism for resolving disputes about interpretation, involving binding independent arbitration and penalties including the suspension of obligations under the agreement. If the EU’s new approach is so far from what the agreement intended, why would the Government not succeed in using that mechanism? Sir Bernard Jenkin The answer is that any question in European law, under article 174 of the withdrawal agreement, has to be referred to the European Court of Justice, and the Court is acting not on behalf of the 28 as before, but on behalf of the 27. We know it is a political court. Jeremy Wright My right hon. Friend might be right to be sceptical about the Court of Justice of the European Union, but the issue likely to arise here is not a question of European Union law; it is a question whether there is compliance with the withdrawal agreement signed by both sides. That does not necessarily raise a question of European law; nor, in my view, is it likely to. It raises a question of treaty law and whether or not this is being abided by in good faith. I accept that the Government have a problem, but I cannot accept that the proposed solution is either necessary or right. International law matters. The rules that bind nations underpin what the United Kingdom says on the world stage on a variety of subjects, from the Skripal poisonings to the treatment of the Uyghur people to the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We speak often, and rightly so, of the rules-based international order as the foundation of freedom and justice in the world and of our security. The rules referred to are, of course, rules of international law. If we break them ourselves, we weaken our authority to make the arguments that the world’s most vulnerable need us to make. Nor is it in our long-term diplomatic or commercial interests to erode the reputation we have earned for the strength of our word and our respect for the rule of law—a reputation that, ironically, we will rely on more than ever when the Brexit process is complete. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or his Ministers wish to undermine that reputation, but I do believe that if Parliament were to give Ministers the powers they are asking for, and if they were to be exercised, we would all come to regret it. That is why I cannot vote for the clauses as they stand, or for a Bill that contains them. Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con) I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I want to ask him, if I may, about the ministerial code. When I was the Attorney General in the previous Government, I was happy to confirm that the ministerial code obliged Ministers to comply with international as well as domestic law. This Bill will give Ministers overt authority to break international law. Has the position on the ministerial code changed? The Prime Minister No, not in the least. My right hon. and learned Friend can consult the Attorney General’s position on that. After all, what this Bill is simply seeking to do is insure and protect this country against the EU’s proven willingness—that is the crucial point—to use this delicately balanced protocol in ways for which it was never intended.